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Health agency turns focus to schools

LISBON — With new cases of COVID-19 currently slowing in Columbiana County, Health Commissioner Wes Vins said Friday the health department is turning its attention toward helping area schools find their best solutions for opening safely while continuing to track the remaining current cases.

The last reported death related to COVID-19 in Columbiana County was in June. The 60 deaths represent about 4 percent of the cases in the county with 1 percent of the cases still considered active cases and the other 95 percent recovered.

There were 39 total new cases this week bringing the county’s number to 1,357. Of those, 30 were inmates from the FCI-Elkton Prison, bringing the total cases at the prison to 890. Two more were residents at a long-term care facility, which have had 90 cases since the coronavirus situation began.

Five of the new cases this week are believed to have been found during the pop-up testing conducted June 29 in Lisbon, during which 275 people were tested with the assistance of medics from the Ohio National Guard. Vins said the five are county residents and if there were more positive tests, the person may have been a resident of another county.

Although five more counties in Ohio made the move to red because of increases in coronavirus spread concerns, Columbiana County was not one of them. Vins said the county remains at yellow, meeting zero of the seven indicators for a significant coronavirus outbreak.

He reminds everyone it is important to continue the good work and not let up on six-foot distancing, mask wearing and hand washing that has brought us to this point. Mass gatherings and festivals are still not allowed under the state guidelines. The chance of spreading the disease remains a concern. County public information director Laura Fauss said the statistics show 40 percent of the people who the health department infections disease trackers followed up with after they came into contact with a known positive person becomes a positive themselves.

The health department is in the process of interviewing an additional person to take the lead as an infectious disease tracker. Currently, Vins said two people are doing the tracking and another five in the health department have been trained. However, there are other health concerns besides coronavirus in the community and the employees in some cases are doing both jobs.

Vins said he has been working with the schools as they prepare for the upcoming school year with COVID-19. While many of the plans may have similar aspects, Vins said each of the school districts in the county is unique with different expectations and problems to solve. Many of the school districts are holding focus groups building partnerships with families and local experts to make sure they are meeting expectations and considering all the concerns.

“This is new,” Vins said. “This is a new frontier. We’re trying to get as much of it right as we can. It’s a huge effort on their part and we’re trying to help them as much as we can…There’s a lot of good ideas …We’re not going to be able to address every single issue. We’re going to do the best we can.”

Vins said the county health department and two city health departments are available for guidance, including for concerns with food service and the school nurses. Additionally, Vins was he was on a conference call on Friday with the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which is adamant it is important for children to head back to school.

djohnson@mojonews.com

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